LITTLE ROCK – The state Division of Youth Services (DYS) closed a secure facility at Dermott, which was the second closing of a juvenile lockup this year.
With support from the legislature, officials at DYS are changing their basic approach to handling adolescents who get in trouble with the law. Rather than relying primarily on locking them inside a secure facility, DYS is expanding access to less restrictive settings in the youths’ home towns.
The Dermott Juvenile Treatment Center opened in 1999. It had 32 beds on 90 acres in southeast Arkansas. A second juvenile facility in Dermott will remain in operation. It’s the Dermott Juvenile Correction Facility, with 32 beds for juvenile sex offenders who require treatment, and high risk male offenders.
Youths are considered “at risk” when their behavior, if continued, is likely to cause them to end up in the judicial system or in prison.
Earlier this year DYS closed a 28-bed secure lockup at Colt, in St. Francis County. After the two closures, DYS now oversees five residential facilities for juvenile offenders.
The division has a contract with a private company from Indiana, Youth Opportunities, Inc., to operate the lockups in Mansfield, Lewisville and Harrisburg, as well as the Dermott facility that will remain open.
A private company called Rite of Passage has the contract to operate the facility in Alexander.
Community programs for juveniles are wide ranging. They include therapy, intensive counseling and work with family members. They include education courses specifically designed to prevent youths from getting in trouble with law enforcement. Some youths live in emergency shelters, some live in supervised group homes and some remain at home under close monitoring by case managers.
Earlier this year the legislature approved Act 189, to authorize the shift in strategy by DYS away from secure detention and more toward community programs.
The act also makes the sentencing of juveniles more uniform, by requiring all judges to rely on the same risk assessment system.
One goal of Act 189 is to eliminate disparities in sentencing. Previously, youths in some areas were routinely locked up in a secure facility for committing offenses that were not treated as harshly by judges in other areas.
Levee Task Force
The governor announced the creation of a 20-member task force to improve the condition of levees throughout Arkansas. He also asked for $10 million to begin repairs on levees that failed during the flooding last month.
The task force will report by the end of this year on maintenance required and estimated costs to restore levees to good condition.
The floods of 2019 caused an estimated $100 million in damage to infrastructure.
The task force will build on the work done by the legislature in a 2016 special session. Lawmakers approved a plan to modernize the local governing authorities in charge of levee maintenance.
When the legislature began its work, state officials could not be certain of the exact number of levees in Arkansas, or who was responsible for maintaining them. Numerous local levee boards were no longer functioning because of vacancies.